Canadian basketball players shake hands with each other during a gameCanada Basketball/Muad Issa
Canada Basketball/Muad Issa

Star-studded men’s basketball team chasing breakthrough for Canada at FIBA World Cup

The expectations are high for Team Canada’s men’s basketball squad at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. With a deep and star-studded roster, they have a real shot at bringing home Canada’s first ever medal from this tournament. They can also book Canada’s spot for Paris 2024 and return the country to the men’s Olympic basketball tournament for the first time since Sydney 2000.

Held every four years, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is the showcase global event in men’s basketball. This year’s edition is the 19th since it began in 1950. It is taking place in multiple nations for the first time in its history, as the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia will all play co-host.

Whether you’re new to the FIBA World Cup or just need a refresher, here’s what you need to know headed into this highly anticipated tournament for the men’s national team that starts on Friday, August 25.

What is the history of the FIBA Basketball World Cup?

The FIBA Basketball World Cup is typically held every four years. Following the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the tournament was scheduled on a new four-year cycle to avoid conflict with the FIFA World Cup. The defending champion is Spain, who won their second gold in 2019. The United States and the former Yugoslavia are tied with five gold medals each.

In 1994, when it was called the FIBA World Championship, Toronto hosted as active National Basketball Association (NBA) players could participate in the tournament for the first time. Since then, as the game has grown exponentially on a global level, many countries have NBA players on their roster.

Who is on Team Canada at the FIBA World Cup?

Canada’s roster is led by one of basketball’s brightest young stars, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Hamilton, Ontario. After averaging 31.4 points per game this past season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander was named to the All-NBA first team. He joined Steve Nash as the only Canadians to ever achieve the feat.

Leading up to the World Cup, Canada Basketball announced that SGA’s potential backcourt partner, Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, would not participate. After being a key contributor to the Nuggets’ first ever NBA title, Murray’s presence on the squad was highly anticipated, but he cited that deep postseason run as a reason to sit out as his body needs time to recover.

SGA is joined on the extended roster by fellow NBA players R.J. Barrett, Luguentz Dort, Dillon Brooks, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

At 7-foot-4, centre Zach Edey will give the team some much needed height. He was awarded the Naismith College Player of the Year in NCAA Division I last season. 

Three players from the extended roster — Cory Joseph, Oshae Brissett and Kassius Robertson — withdrew from consideration in the lead up to the tournament.

Team Canada will be coached by Jordi Fernandez, who is making his international debut after being named head coach on June 27. Fernandez has formerly served as assistant coach on the Spanish and Nigerian national teams. He also has NBA experience as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets and presently the Sacramento Kings.

Team Canada FIBA World Cup Roster

GuardsForwards Centres
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)Dillon Brooks – Houston Rockets (NBA)Zach Edey – Purdue Boilermakers (NCAA)
R.J. Barrett – New York Knicks (NBA)Dwight Powell – Dallas Mavericks (NBA)Kelly Olynyk – Utah Jazz (NBA)
Luguentz Dort – Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)Kyle Alexander – Valencia (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker – Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA)Melvin Ejim – Unicaja (Liga ACB, Spain)
Trae Bell-Haynes –  Casademont Zaragoza (Liga ACB, Spain)
Phil Scrubb – Niagara River Lions (NBL, Canada)

Who will Canada play against at the FIBA World Cup?

Canada (ranked 15th in the world) is in Group H with France (No. 5), Latvia (No. 29), and Lebanon (No. 43). Their first round games will be played in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Canada hasn’t had much recent history with any of the teams in their group. In fact, you have to go back to 2016 for a loss against France in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. France has been a world basketball power for decades and is coming off a 10-2 record in the FIBA Europe World Cup Qualifiers. They won the bronze medal at the 2019 World Cup.

In exhibition games ahead of the World Cup, Canada won two of three matches en route to winning the DBB SuperCup in Hamburg. After dropping the first game to Germany, Canada responded with a blowout victory against New Zealand. In the tournament final, they erased a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to avenge their loss to Germany, winning 113-112. R.J. Barrett led the way with 31 points.

Canada will open the World Cup against France in a marquee match on Friday, August 25 at 9:30 a.m. ET. That will be followed by dates with Lebanon on Sunday, August 27 at 5:45 a.m. ET and finally Latvia at 9:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, August 29.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the second round, where they are placed into new groups. Results from the first round will carry over as teams play the two teams in their new group that they did not face in the first round. The second round will run August 31-September 4.

The top two teams in each second round group move on to the quarterfinals, from which they aim to win their way into semifinals and then the final. The playoff round takes place September 5-10 in Manila, Philippines.

What are Canada’s chances at the FIBA World Cup?

In recent history, Canada has not fared well at the FIBA World Cup. They qualified for just two of the last four tournaments, placing 21st in 2019 and 22nd in 2010.

However, a breakthrough for the men’s national team has been long-awaited especially with the increased presence of Canadian players in the NBA and other professional leagues around the globe.

They breezed into the 2023 World Cup by going 11-1 during the FIBA Americas Qualifiers. Their FIBA ranking of No. 15 indicates an expectation of advancing past the first round. Should they finish in the top two of Group H, they will be paired with the two best teams from Group G for the second round also in Jakarta. Group G includes two heavyweights — the No. 1-ranked FIBA nation and defending champion Spain and No. 13-ranked Brazil, the team that knocked Canada out of the FIBA AmeriCup in 2022.

How can Canada qualify for Paris 2024 at the FIBA World Cup?

From the FIBA World Cup, seven teams will secure their qualification for the next Olympic Games. That includes two teams from the Americas region, two teams from Europe, and one team each from Africa, Asia, and Oceania. As the host nation of Paris 2024, France is automatically qualified.

Canada will need to be among the top two teams from the Americas at the World Cup to book an Olympic spot. Also vying for Olympic qualification from the region are Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela. For countries that do not qualify for Paris 2024 via the World Cup, there will be another opportunity through the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments that will be held next year.